One of the many heroic soldiers I got to know much better while researching my tour of the New Market Heights battlefield was Sgt. Maj. Christian Fleetwood (shown above standing behind the boy). Born in 1840 to free parents in Baltimore, Maryland, Fleetwood earned both the Medal of Honor and the Butler Medal for his courageous actions at New Market Heights.
Fleetwood appears in the 1860 census as a nineteen year old mulatto. His parents are shown as Charles Fleetwood, a forty-five year old mulatto waiter, and Maria, a forty-four year old mulatto with no occupation listed. Also in the family was Averick, a twenty year old black female, Christian’s older sister. Additionally, Maria was noted as being unable to read and write, and Christian is shown as having attended school. Charles is listed as owning $100 in personal property. The family is also shown in the 1850 census, but all are described as mulatto.
Charles and Maria Fleetwood must have appreciated that education could provide better life opportunities for Christian, and Christian must have shown academic potential, because he was afforded a quality education from dedicated teachers and later graduated from Ashmun Institute in Oxford, Pennsylvania, in 1860. Before enlisting, Christian worked for an African American newspaper, the Lyceum Observer, in Baltimore, as well as for the American Colonization Society.
Christian enlisted in Company G, 4th United States Colored Infantry on August 11, 1863. His service records show he was twenty-three years old, five feet four and a half inches, with a “brown” complexion, with the pre-war occupation of clerk. The regiment must have noticed Christian’s potential right off as he was made sergeant upon joining and promoted to sergeant-major eight days after enlisting.
Almost 40,000 African American soldiers in the Union army died during their service. The vast majority, like white soldiers, died from disease. Christian seemingly lived a blessed life. His service records show that after the war he was admitted to a hospital Alexandria, Virginia, in October 1865, for an intermittent fever, for which he received quinine. But he apparently he checked himself out without permission and rejoined his regiment. Perhaps Christian felt hospitals were not the most healthy places to heal oneself.
Christian received good fortune in battle as well. Despite being in the thick of the fight and attacking in an unsupported battle line formation on September 29, 1864, at New Market Heights, the 4th showed its steel will. Attacking the Confederate breastworks after navigating through battlefield obstacles, the 4th suffered over fifty percent casualties. Christian braved the storm of shot and shell. When all of the unit’s color bearers went down killed or wounded, he snatched up the U.S. flag and continued forward, rallying and leading his men forward until they were finally, mercifully withdrawn. For his bravery Christian was awarded the Medal of Honor on April 6, 1865. Two of Christian’s comrades in the 4th, Alfred Hilton and Charles Veal, also were recognized for conspicuous gallantry with Medals of Honor.
After the war Christian married Sarah, a teacher born in Pennsylvania, and they lived in Washington D.C. Christian held positions both inside and outside of the federal government in the years following the conflict. In 1900, Christian, Sarah and their sixteen year old daughter Edith lived on Spruce Street. Suffering from heart failure, Christian died on September 28, 1914, nearly fifty years to the day he braved the fire at New Market Heights.